[Source:] Meno then proffers a paradox: "And how will you inquire into a thing when you are wholly ignorant of what it is? Even if you happen to bump right into it, how will you know it is the thing you didn't know?" Socrates rephrases the question, which has come to be the canonical statement of the paradox: "[A] man cannot search either for what he knows or for what he does not know[.] He cannot search for what he knows--since he knows it, there is no need to search--nor [1.] for what he does not know, for he does not know what to look for."

After witnessing the example with the slave boy, Meno tells Socrates that he thinks that Socrates is correct in his theory of recollection, to which Socrates replies, “I think I am. I shouldn’t like to take my oath on the whole story, but one thing I am ready to fight for as long as I can, in word and act—that is, that we shall be better, braver, and more active men [2.] if we believe it right to look for what we don’t know...” It has been argued variously that this implies Socrates is skeptical regarding knowledge or that he is a pragmatist. It also prepares us for the subsequent discussion of knowledge by hypothesis.

In [1.], Socrates says that you can't seek what you don't know, because you don't know what to seek. Yet in [2], he does believe in seeking what you don't know. So do [1] and [2] conflict?

  • 1
    It's worth noting that Socrates constantly contradicts himself --it's a core part of his technique. Feb 23, 2015 at 19:28
  • @ChrisSunami +1. Thanks for your comment. I didn't know that; I'll remember it.
    – user8572
    Mar 22, 2015 at 18:13

1 Answer 1


No implication is given that searching for what he does not know is the only way to add knowledge. Socrates statement and Meno's paradox only implies that we will not know we learned something we didn't know. It does not refute the possibility that we could learn something without realizing it.

His second statement suggests that the act of looking for what we don't know has a positive effect, but does not directly state that we will know what we know. It merely states that he strongly believes (but cannot prove) that we shall be better men if we consider it "right" to look for what we don't know. He states that he believes we will be better if we go in that direction, even if we don't "know" what it provides us.

It would thus be valid to synthesize from Socrates statements that true knowledge always sneaks up on us, and better, braver, more active men seek to put themselves in a position such that true knowledge sneaks up on them easier.

You must log in to answer this question.